Germany opens door to buying Russian vaccines outside EU

Sputnik V is already being used in European countries such as Hungary and Slovakia

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German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a press conference on Friday

SabadellThe German government believes it would be a good option to buy doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, and do so even independently from the European Union. The German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, said hw could "imagine that we will close contracts [with Russia], and that we will close them quickly". In fact, according to Spahn, the German authorities are in close contact with the Russian authorities on vaccine-related issues. Spahn also made it clear that, if necessary, Germany will not wait for the European Union to act before buying Sputnik V units: "In fact, I am very much in favour of doing it ourselves at the state level if the European Union doesn't do something."

Spahn has made conditioned this possible approval of the vaccine in Germany to the number of units would be available. "The approval makes sense above all if large quantities are then quickly available," he said, adding that Sputnik V could only be approved in his country if it is accompanied by sufficient and clear information about its effectiveness and possible side effects.

Russian vaccine sample in a Moscow hospital

The European Commission agreed with member states that the purchase and distribution of vaccines would be centralised, but this strategy has so far proved inefficient and has been criticised for the slow arrival of vaccines (partly due to the breach of contracts by pharmaceutical companies) and for the lack of transparency with which, according to some states, the doses have been distributed among the different countries. In fact, some governments have long since decided to act outside the Commission and buy vaccines from Sinopharm or Sputnik V, which are yet to be granted EMA approval. So far, however, these are only countries with a Eurosceptic profile, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Austria and Denmark, meanwhile, have also acted unilaterally by partnering with Israel in a common fund for vaccine research and production.

In fact, an eventual agreement for the acquisition of doses of Sputnik V would not be the first that Germany has signed directly with a pharmaceutical company, outside the EU. Two months ago it was made public that Angela Merkel's government had negotiated with the German companies CureVac and BioNTech to buy, in total, 50 million doses of their vaccines. On August 31, 2020, the German executive closed an agreement to purchase 20 million units of the CureVac vaccine (which has not yet been approved) and eight days later signed another with BioNTech to ensure 30 million doses of the vaccine that this laboratory had created together with Pfizer. In both cases it was established, however, that these doses would not be distributed until the EU had received the ones its entitled to.

Vaccine diplomacy

So far, Sputnik V vaccine has not received the approval of the EMA, which began to analyse it earlier this month although Russia's National Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology (Gameleia), which developed it, has not yet formally requested authoriaation for it to be used in the EU. The approval of this vaccine (which is already being used in most of Asia and also in many countries in Latin America and Africa) would speed up the process of immunising the European population: in January Russia assured that it would be able to supply the EU with 100 million doses during the second quarter of this year. At the same time, however, this decision would have important diplomatic implications, at a time of strong tensions between Brussels and Moscow.

For its part, Russia has signed an agreement with the Swiss pharmaceutical company Adienne to produce doses of Sputnik V at its plant in Italy, and is looking for other partners to manufacture in other European countries as well. In this regard, according to Efe, Jens Spahn explained Friday that his ministry and the Ministry of Economy collaborate with the Russian authorities in the search for facilities to produce the vaccine both in Germany and elsewhere in Europe .